The Pittsburgh Penguins have filled a giant need on offense, acquiring left wing James Neal, along with defenseman Matt Niskanen, from the Dallas Stars in exchange for defenseman Alex Goligoski.
Neal, 23, has scored at least 20 goals in all three of his NHL seasons, including 21 in 59 games this season.
The 33rd pick of the 2005 Entry Draft, Neal has 72 goals and 131 points in 214 games in three seasons.
However, with the emergence of All-Star Loui Eriksson, as well as the promising Jamie Benn, the Stars could afford to ship out a left wing if meant upgrading their offensive firepower from the back end.
"Neal is signed for another year, and this is a totally different angle for us," Pens GM Ray Shero said during a conference call Monday night. "Usually, July 1 is a market for older guys and this is the first young winger we've gone out and gotten. Neal is just 23. This is a hockey trade we have been looking for. When we get (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin back, we will have a pretty good forward group."
Goligoski, 25, has 9 goals and 31 points in 60 games this season, numbers that easily should eclipse the 8 goals and 37 points he had last season, his first full NHL campaign.
"We're very excited to add Alex Goligoski to our hockey club," said Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk. "Alex is a legitimate top-four defenseman who will have a positive impact on our entire corps of blueliners. He has averaged over 20 minutes per game and can play in all situations."
With All-Star Kris Letang quarterbacking the first power-play unit, as well as a solid puck-mover in Paul Martin signed over the summer, the Penguins could afford to sacrifice a player of Goligoski's talent to upgrade an offense that's missing Crosby, Malkin and Chris Kunitz.
A 2004 second-round pick, Goligoski has 23 goals and 90 points in 170 NHL games, as well as 10 points in 15 Stanley Cup Playoff games. Shero admitted coach Dan Bylsma was disappointed to hear Goligoski was part of the deal.
"Dan had a tough time getting his arms around this one ... he really liked Alex," Shero said. "He'll have a higher role than he did here. It's a good trade for both teams."
Niskanen, 24, was the 25th pick of the 2008 Entry Draft. He had 26 points as a rookie in 2007-08 and 35 points the following season, but has struggled since then. This season, he has just 6 assists in 45 games.
"I'm excited for a fresh start," Niskanen told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "When I'm effective I'm really moving the puck well, getting involved in the attack. I pride myself on moving the puck and taking care of the little things."
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